B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
By Hope Green
A little over two years ago, when Bill Lattanzi was helping Kate Snodgrass organize the first annual Boston Theater Mara-thon, he proudly told a news-writer of their plan to “show off the Boston theater community.”
The reporter raised an eyebrow and responded, “If you can find one.”
It was a remark, Lattanzi says, typical of the Boston media, which has tended either to ignore or disparage the local stage. That’s beginning to change, however, as the success of the Boston Theater Marathon forces skeptics to take a second look. On June 12, the marathon was recognized with a special citation at the annual Elliot Norton Awards, the “Boston Tonys,” whose selection committee is made up of none other than theater critics. One of them, Ed Siegel of the Boston Globe, called this year’s marathon a “celebration of what has become a much tighter theater community.
“In fact,” he wrote in the April 21 edition, “many people credit Kate Snodgrass and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, site of the marathon, for playing a large part in creating that community.”
Lattanzi (GRS’01), who has been active in Boston drama for nearly a decade and is currently completing a master’s degree in BU’s Creative Writing Program, says such back-claps are “a sign that the press in this town is beginning to recognize that the Boston theater community is thriving.
“The message is getting out,” he says, “and that’s deeply satisfying, because it’s exactly what we set out to do.”
Lattanzi and Snodgrass, producing director of the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at BU, dreamt up the marathon over a beer in T’s Pub. They envisioned something more inclusive and cooperative than other drama festivals, which tend to showcase a single theater and its resources. The first marathon met their expectations, bringing together 40 scrappy local theater com-panies for a day of nonstop drama. From noon to 10 p.m. on April 18, 1999, the day before Boston’s better-known 26.2-mile marathon, they staged 8- to 10-minute plays at a rate of 4 per hour. Along with work by dozens of emerging playwrights, the program included contributions from such marquee names as Israel Horowitz and David Mamet.
“I really didn’t know if we’d get an audience,” Snodgrass recalls. “I was very wary. But we had standing room only from 12 noon the first year, and it’s remained that way all day, both times.”
Audience members pay a flat fee for admission and may stay as long as they please. If they leave, they are guaranteed readmission but not immediate seating.
“You sit through an hour, and then there’s an opportunity to get up and go,” says Dan Hunter (GRS’99), managing director of the Playwrights’ Theatre. “But what happens is that people don’t leave, because there are people waiting for their seats.”
“It becomes addictive,” Snodgrass adds. “You think, ‘I can’t leave. I’m going to miss something.’ There are a number of people who stay the entire day.”
Ten straight hours of live theater may sound grueling. (Even the Boston Marathon’s slowest pokes are done in half that time.) But Snodgrass and the other members of the marathon’s reading team work hard to build sty-listic variety into the bill — both to keep the audience engaged and to represent the Boston drama scene in all its diversity. Quality selections are virtually assured because competition is so keen. The marathon receives about four times as many submissions — one-act plays and self-contained excerpts of longer works — as there are slots available, and a number of worthy entries necessarily fall by the wayside.
The first two theater mara-thons, Hunter says, were supported entirely by grants from the Humanities Foundation at Boston University, which will also fund the third. This has liberated the Playwrights’ Theatre to donate all proceeds to a deserving local charity. In 1999, the beneficiary was the Boston Theatre Benevolent Fund, which helps pay emergency expenses for members of the theater community who have no medical benefits. This year’s marathon netted $13,500 for Boston Medical Center’s Children’s AIDS Program.
The marathon’s special citation, Hunter says, was the only Elliot Norton Award announcement greeted by a standing ovation at the June 12 ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton. Accepting the prize, named for the longtime Boston theater critic, Snodgrass generously, and rightly, spread credit around the room.
“She said that virtually everyone in that room should take a bow,” Hunter recalls, “because almost everyone there contributed something to the marathon.”
A few days after this year’s marathon, Snodgrass announced that Baker’s Plays will begin publishing an annual “best of” anthology from the event. She and two editors at Baker’s have selected 21 of the 1999 mara-thon’s scripts for inclusion, and are at work on a table of contents for the 2000 edition.
For more information about the Boston Theater Marathon or the anthology, call the Boston Play-wrights’ Theatre at 353-5443.